Wheeler: "I Could Have Made Those Saves.'

Scott Taylor
January 23 2012 08:01PM

 

A Rare Occurrence This Month: A Jets Goal Celebration.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was in the press box in Raleigh, N.C. Monday night. He told Dennis Beyak on TSN Jets TV that he was "evaluating his hockey team."

When the game between the Jets and the Carolina Hurricanes was over, Cheveldayoff probably evaluated the Jets 2-1 loss the same way everyone else did. Yes, Dustin Byfuglien has been out with an injury for awhile and yes, Evander Kane has suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely, but at some point, Cheveldayoff's Jets are going to need a legitimate scorer or two or maybe three.

For the second staright game the Jets outplayed a member of their own division and for the second straight game they lost. Saturday night, the Jets lost 4-3 in a shootout to the Florida Panthers despite outshooting Florida 44-23. Monday night, the Jets outshot the Hurricanes 30-16 and lost 2-1. The Jets outskated the Hurricanes and outplayed them to such a degree that they held Carolina without a shot for a stretch in the second and their periods that lasted more than 15 minutes. The Jets were clearly the best team on the ice, but they just couldn't score.

"Cam Ward is a good goalie," Blake Wheeler said on TSN Jets TV, "but we really didn't test him enough. 

"We had a lot of shots, but most of them came from the perimeter. We didn't get enough traffic inside on him. He's too good a goaltender for what we did. I could have made those saves."

Wheeler was polite and gracious to the fans for allowing himself to be interviewed on TV right after a difficult loss, but it was plain to see that he was bitter. He was angry at himself and angry at the way the puck had bounced for two consecutive games. The Jets had accumulated one point when they had played well enough to accumulate four.

And that hurts. It hurts because the Jets fell behind 2-0 early in the first period on two bad bounces: Jeff Skinner's pass hit Ron Hainsey's skate, bounced back to Skinner and be buried it. Then Tim Brent came out of the corner, treid to pass it across the crease, it hit a skate and went in. Because the Jets lack a sniper, that was enough to win. That's problematic.

Monday night, the Jets lost to a team they'd already beaten three times this season. They lost to a team that started the game seven points behind them. They lost to a team that simply can't skate with them. But the Hurricanes got two breaks in the first period and that was good enough to beat a Winnipeg team that has only 20 goals in 11-plus (counting overtime) games this month.

The 22-21-6 Jets are still 10th in the East, but with Toronto's 3-0 win over the Islanders, the Jets are now three points out of eighth/ninth place. Tuesday night, the Jets face the New York Rangers in Manhattan.

Head coach Claude Noel looked frustrated -- not surprisingly -- when he walked slowly toward the TV camera for the post-game interview session.

"We had an opportunity to win the game," said Noel on TSN Jets TV. "We had enough chances to win the game. Wellwood had a breakaway, we hit a post, Wheeler had chances, Burmistrov went in shorthanded, in the second period Miettinen had an open net. We have to find a way to penetrate. We did everything but score.

"You have to be ready to go off at the start and we didn't seem to be prepared. We have to understand, there are no easy games."

When you coach a team that lacks a big scorer, coach Noel is correct: There are no easy games. And Tuesday night in Manhattan, it certainly won't get any easier.

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Scott Taylor wrote the definitive bestselling book on the Winnipeg Jets, a book that comes with the perfect title: "Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg." He has covered the Jets as a writer and broadcaster since the WHA days in 1976. He likes the Jets and danced the conga at The Forks when the team returned.
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